Eulogies for Ryo Murakami

Edit: Takeshi Fukunaga

Outside of movie industry insiders, moviegoers often overlook the role of the cinematographer even though it is often their magic that makes a big difference in the craft of movie making.  Ryo Murakami was one of these cinematographers who made a huge difference in any project he was involved in, including the documentary Blank City and Alicia Keys’s "Girl On Fire" music video.   We had not known about Ryo Murakami's legacy until we saw some of our dear friends deeply saddened by his passing, on June 29th, 2013, from Malaria, which he contracted during the shoot in Liberia. It was unfortunate that so many of us learned how talented and loved he was only after the unthinkable happened.  Now, his friends and family are coming together to keep his life’s work alive.  Takeshi Fukunaga, a filmmaker who was working on the feature film Out of My Hand with Ryo, collected these eulogies so that we can all celebrate his life as a cinematographer, father, brother and friend. (PERISCOPE)

Donari Braxton, Director of Themes From a Rosary, Producer of Out of My Hand
There is a highest class of leadership that can’t be taught, but somehow, by some, can be learned. Ryo Murakami was a leader, not solely in natural temperament. His leadership was a kind of synthesis in wrought discipline, purpose, and personal and professional integrity. It’s the kind of leadership that’s only accessible through extraordinary intention. In that sense, part of me believes that Ryo’s most defining qualities were, actually, the choices he made. The world through Ryo’s eyes, just as in the world through his lens, had no sense of arbitrary, and no sense of passive.
He had the ability to disarm and earn what seemed like the near-immediate intimacies of those who met him. To those who knew him, be it in simple, casual conversation, he had a singular way of maintaining a sense of being present, that invariably made each one of us feel important to him. Ryo could not divorce these qualities from his art, where in composition after composition the casual world appears suddenly radically distinct and emphatic, stormed with now and with meaning. And where the subjects of his lens seem to radiate their conditions and pour forth their secrets, as if despite themselves. Ryo saw savagely, and listened patiently, in art as in life. Superb in intensity, superb in calm. One learned whatever one could from him.
He’s survived by his wife, for whom I've endless admiration, and by his two spirited children, and a third on the way, a family whose lives I'll always hope to be a part of. I miss him every day.
Kevin Hanlon & Daniel Carracino, Directors of Bill. W.
We worked on our documentary film, Bill W., for over eight years.  We interviewed nearly 70 people and shot over 30 hours of elaborate recreations.  Ryo Murakami wasn’t the project’s first Director of Photography, but he became its last; it took us a couple of years to find him.  He shot the great majority of footage that appears in the film, and simply put, the film would not be what it is without Ryo’s contribution.
Ryo was an artist.  In simple terms, he created beautiful imagery, and he understood how to create that imagery so that it could be used to tell a story.  He possessed the innate compassion, insight, and vision – which can never really be expressed in words – that is the true mark of all genuine artists.  These qualities were impossible to miss for anyone lucky enough to have known him, and they are embedded in all the work Ryo left behind, for those who didn’t. 
When Kevin and Ryo worked together for the first time, they developed a rapport that was critical to making our film.  And when Dan met Ryo soon afterwards, he developed the same kind of rapport.
It might sound strange to put it this way, but that rapport was, at its core, love.  We loved Ryo. Not just as a DP, but as a man.  And we miss him dearly. 
Mika Ninagawa, Director of Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire”
When I first worked with Ryo, I thought to myself, "I won't have trouble when I shoot in the United States." I thought we could work on many things together.  Meeting somebody that makes you feel that way is a real treasure.  I’m so sad that I am speechless. I wanted to work with you a lot more. May you rest in peace.  
Laurent Fauchère & Antoine Tinguely, Director of 1956
We had the chance to work with Ryo on two of our most exciting projects. It all started when we met him while making our short film, 1956, which was shot in NYC. After interviewing several Directors of Photography, Ryo was definitely our match. His skills, his sharp sense of lighting and his passion for storytelling immediately seduced us. We’re not even talking about his amazing sense of humor and his lovely personality that turned our long working days into some enjoyable and unforgettable moments.
During the shoot, we quickly knew that we wanted to involve Ryo in several other projects, the next one on the list was a production job in Prague for the luxury watch brand, Vacheron Constantin. It was an ambitious project which required him to be in Prague and Lausanne for more than a week.  That's when we had an opportunity to get to know each other and share some precious time with our families. 
We miss you, we'll never forget you Ryo! Adieu l'ami !
Kaori Brand, Director of Standing Strong by the United Nations University (UNU)
The first job I did with Ryo after graduation was The Wisdom Years, a documentary series co-produced by the United Nations University and WHO. After that, we worked together on many opportunities for the United Nations University and the Ministry of Environment with him going to frigid Shiretoko, disastrous areas in Tohoku, and mountainous regions of India. The footage made possibly by his unique aesthetics, outstanding skills, knowledge and supportiveness toward the directors, and his affection toward subjects, people, and locations provided depth to each work. Ryo was a good friend and irreplaceable cinematographer who will never be forgotten.  Thank you for giving us such wonderful footage. 
Celine Danheier, Director of Blank City
Ryo was not just a wonderful and talented director of photography, he was truly a kindhearted, generous and inspiring person who touched the lives of everyone he worked with. The film Blank City would not have been possible without Ryo and it is a great loss to the  film community.  Most of all, we feel the loss of our sincerely beloved friend. We are thankful to be able to celebrate Ryo through the impressive collection of work he leaves behind and through his wonderful children & family.
Kota Sato, Gaffer of Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire” Music Video, Pan Cake
I met Ryo in 2006 on the film set in New York. We both worked as assistants then.  I was impressed and envied by how he was making his way through in the States.  Four years later in Japan, we ran into each other on the  set of an independent movie and this time we were both part of the main production staff.  And last year, we got to work on Alicia Keys’s music video.  The celebratory drinks we had that night were exceptional.  We were both stepping up and I was expecting to have a lot more work to do together.  I won't forget Ryo's confident smiles, wonderful footages and the good times we had  together. I hate to have to say this. Rest in peace.
Jeff Folmsee, Director of The Collector
Ryo is a fallen comrade and I miss him dearly.   
He was a key collaborator on The Collector, the documentary I produced and directed for HBO. I will forever value the good humor, professionalism, talent and dedication he brought to every aspect of his job, no matter what it was on any particular day. If a production had a Most Valuable Player award, Ryo would have won hands down.
You could always rely on Ryo to step up and quietly help solve whatever problem we were facing in the day to day dramas that are part of making any film.
When we were trying to convince HBO to let us shoot with the Red camera—something they had never done, and did not want to do – it was his voice at the big meeting with the tech department heads that finally persuaded them to let us break new ground for the company. On set, there was nothing more reassuring than to look over my shoulder and see that Ryo was standing by, always completely invested in whatever it was we were trying to solve. In post, I would always look forward to hanging out when it was just the two of us staring at a color correction screen as he tweaked the controls to come up with a look for the film.
But of course, what I will remember most about Ryo is how quick he was to smile, and find the common human moment in whatever it was we were doing. It seemed effortless for him to be positive, to believe in the solvability of everything – he believed in the worthiness of the fight.  I miss him terribly.
Delphine Dhilly, Director of Far From Iraq
As I feel the infinite pain of him being gone, I look for ways to believe it is still worth it. I fear cinema may have lost its meaning for me. But the other night, walking home from a screening of a beautiful and unusual film, I had a glimpse of where Ryo may have wished me to go back to as I was doubting my ability to “live” and “live” cinema without him. I think Ryo would have wanted me/us to get back to that Brooklyn College Cinema department, where 3 young people from distant countries and cultures, Ryo, Mike and I, shared the common ground of coming from small towns, and were somehow lucky enough to make this ‘hard to define’ encounter and to continue to make film onward. I know I can trace my urge or curiosity to do, to think, to look and to search, like Ryo did, from there. From that time, that place, that had become My Place to go back to, in my heart and mind and soul, if I ever doubted. That place where we met and hoped and worked and laughed, has extended and influenced me in such profound, funny, brave, and inspiring ways that I can never let it go.  Now more than ever, this place is the place to be.
Mike Fox, Producer of  Out of My Hand
Unforgettable. Respected. Attentive. Devoted. Diligent. Gifted. Open-minded. 
Appreciative. Strong. Kind. Giving. Inspirational. Critical. Outspoken. Humble. Caring. Rock-N-Roll. Collaborator. Peer. Listener. Explorer. Student. 
Mentor. Japanese. New Yorker. Son. Brother. Father. Husband. Cinematographer. 
Artist. Friend… LOVED. MISSED.
Jonathan Turner, Director of Glasser “Design”
Light streamed through the screening room windows, as it always did, but it shone brightly on Ryo that day. He had come by to share a rough cut of his documentary about rubber farmers in Liberia. We shut the blinds and the projector whirred to life. I was mesmerized by the opening scene. We see a lone man, deep under a cool canopy of rubber trees. A machete hits a tree trunk and releases it's milky white sap. The scene shifted to the dirt roads of a dilapidated work camp village. There’s a woman wailing in the hot sun, holding the limp body of her dead infant. The scene shifted again to a medium shot of a beautiful and vibrant Liberian man pleading to a gathering about the benefits of unionizing. 
The hardest thing about losing Ryo for me is losing his humanity. Of course he was in Fukushima shooting very soon after the devastating tsunami. It's not just because Ryo had a beautiful eye for cinematography or that he was very calm and cool on set or that he could carry his own equipment for days to document a hidden forest. He brought a profound sense of humaneness wherever he went and that ultimately we are all in this journey together to help each other. It's a beautiful thing to be able to craft something with artistic integrity that also makes us reflect on our own humanity. I felt like Ryo achieved that often in his work and luckily we can enjoy that work as long as we are alive. What I really miss is the physicality of him, that glow, that smile.
Judd Ehrilich, Director of Run For Your Life
When I first met Ryo, with his leather pants and spiked hair, he seemed to come straight out of the downtown NYC of my youth. I found just beneath the cool exterior was an incredibly inquisitive and genuine person. We became friends and, when I decided to start a production company, I asked Ryo to partner with me. 
Ryo and I worked on countless projects together over the years, including several feature documentaries. One film told the story of NYC Marathon founder Fred Lebow. Like Ryo, Fred left his family in another country to come to New York City, where he worked tirelessly to fulfill his dreams. For both, their life's work was not just a job — it was a calling. 
Ryo gave so much of himself to every project because he believed in what he was doing. It was never about money or fame. It was about being true to himself — his gifts and his vision — and creating images and stories that had the power to transform the viewer. Ryo succeeded and his work will continue to affect people for generations.
Beyond Ryo's impact as an artist, his legacy will be felt by his family, his children and all the people he touched around the world simply by knowing them and being part of their lives. Ryo is gone far too soon but I will always be grateful I had the chance to be his collaborator and friend.
*Ryo Murakami's family created ryomurakami.com and a Facebook page to share his work and offer a forum for those who loved and admired him to stay connected to him and the images he dedicated his life to.  
  • Standing Strong, Kesennuma
  • Satoumi Shiraho Community
  • Satoumi Shiretoko Peninsula
  • Satoumi Shiraho Community
  • Standing Strong, Kesennuma
  • Nature's Bounty and Inheriting Wisdom
  • Women of Rhythm
  • Out of My Hand
  • Out of My Hand
  • Out of My Hand
  • With James Toback
  • ALICIA KEYS "Girl On Fire"
  • ALICIA KEYS "Girl On Fire"
  • Baile
  • Run For Your Life at Tribeca Film Festival


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